...where distraction is the main attraction.

Monday, November 1, 2021

North British 50 year old 1962 Alambic Classique, cask 12042

Though calling Single Grain Whisky nothing but barrel-aged vodka is a bit further than I'm willing to go, I will say that convincing people to pay Single Malt prices for Single Grain whisky is the scotch industry's most successful con job. The very nature and production process of grain whisky renders a cheap, thin, nearly featureless spirit. Putting it in active casks results in bland extraction that doesn't even have the texture of American corn whiskey. Though three or more decades of maturation does produce a grain whisky with real characteristics, that's just the cask talking. I had hoped that whisky geekdom's introduction to French brandies and Jamaican rums would spell the death of three- and four-figure single grain prices, but buyers still can't resist those big age statements.

What I'm saying is, I don't like single grain scotch whisky. And this will be the last week of single grain scotch you'll ever see here. I'm going to take a look at three bottlings from North British, a distillery that uses a corn-heavy mashbill that occasionally results in a better grain whisky than its competitors. Today, it's a 50 year old. No, that's not a typo.

Distillery: North British
Owner: 50% Diageo, 50% The Edrington Group
Independent Bottler: Alambic Classique
Age: 50 years (1962-2012)
Maturation: bourbon cask
Cask #: 12042
Limited Release: 159 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 44.9%
(sample from a bottle split)


It has a pretty nose, with floral notes, saline and shortbread up front, and bits of mango and grapefruit in the background. Hints of honeydew and cream soda appear after 45 minutes.

The palate starts dusty and papery. The tannins begin subtly, but do tilt towards bitterness. Mild notes of clove, eucalyptus, vanilla, caramel and black pepper slowly take shape. Around the 45 minute mark, Mount Gay Eclipse rum and cheap Canadian blends (Black Velvet, if you please) start to take over, and are only halted by a wall of paper pulp.

It finishes bitter and metallic, with notes of paper, caramel and young sugar-doped rum.


*strains heroically to avoid using a GIF*

In defense of......whatever, I will say that this sample has not been sitting in my stash for nine years. Less than nine months, in fact. And the bottle was split by a very reputable member of the whisky community. He is likely thankful to be freed from a full bottle of this liquid.

I really enjoyed the nose as it suggested a graceful five decades of maturation. The palate is where it all falls apart, as is usually the case for single grains. Its similarity to $10-$20 spirits is disheartening, and the overwhelming paper notes are nearly tragic. That poor cask could have been used for so many other things, or maybe that tree could have been left alone to turn carbon dioxide into oxygen.

Most importantly, I did get a sweet 2oz French Square bottle out of the deal.

Availability - ???
Pricing - ???
Rating - 76 (the nose keeps the score aloft)


  1. Thanks for calling out the con!
    Another revealing fact is that American bourbon and rye have to be distilled to no more than 80% ABV, whereas, if memory serves, Scotch single grain is allowed up to 95%. So while technically not vodka or neutral spirit (>95% ABV), Scotch single grain corresponds to American light whisky. You don't read a lot of fan reviews of light whisky, or see it sold for $xxx.

    Also, you called it some years ago that single grain is all coconut, banana, and not much else (that's a rough citation) - I'm surprised you didn't mention those notes here.

    1. Ugh. I vurped seeing "coconut, banana". That's right up there with Cutty Sark's turpentine note as my least favorite characteristic. Invergordon is the guiltiest of that style. So yeah, I guess the absence of the coconut-banana note was a win for this North British and me.

      According to the defunct Scotchwhisky.com, North British's spirit comes off the column at 94.5%, so yeah it is Scottish light whisky. Never thought of that. Good call!

    2. 94.5% - that's vodka by another name. Wow, they really pushed it to the limits of the law. Call it "barrel-aged vodka" and no jury of your peers will convict you. Good call back at you!

      I remember some years ago being intrigued about why single grain Scotch tastes so different from bourbon so I did a little digging - the distillation proof was my explanation (and yes, there's KY vs Scotland aging and new vs old oak but that didn't convince me).

      I fell for the single grain con a few times before, and while I was not prepared to buy another bottle soon, your trenchant review nailed that coffin shut.

    3. The kind of stills used for bourbon and grain whisky may have an influence as well. Bourbon stills tend to be single column with doublers vs. the double column Coffey style used for grain whisky, which is going to give a lot more separation. Of course what we really need for the sake of comparison is grain whisky where they put the spirit pipe at the plate with roughly 80% ABV output and to age it up for a few years in new oak.